Updated: May 6, 2021
March 21st marks the International Day of Forests. First declared in 2012, the day celebrates and raises awareness of the importance of the world’s forests. In preparation, we wanted to share the significance of forests.
Globally, over 1.6 million people and over 2000 indigenous cultures depend on forests for the goods and services they provide. Covering around 30% of the Earth’s land area, forests are home to 80% of all terrestrial species. Forests also have had spiritual significance throughout human history, which is still apparent today as almost 2 billion people hold a belief that is respectful of sacred forests.
Forests are one of the most productive land-based ecosystems on Earth, with rainforests being a hub for biodiversity. In fact, rainforests are home to more animal and plant species than any other land habitat. As well as habitats for animals, forests play an essential role in the livelihoods of humans. These incredible ecosystems provide a range of services that we often take for granted. Purification of air and water, wood and paper products, and medicines are just a snippet of the services provided by forests. Astonishingly, more than 25% of the medicines we use today originated in rainforests. The power of nature is remarkable.
Forests also offer watershed protection, prevent soil erosion and help recycle soil nutrients. The structure of soil partially comes from tree roots, allowing it to absorb and retain rainwater. This prevents fertile soil from being washed away in heavy rain. Trees also provide protection from harsh weather conditions without which may degrade the top layers of soil. Essentially, forests keep soil healthy allowing nutritious food to grow.
As well as protection from weather, forests can actually influence weather events. By absorbing radiant heat from the sun, and promoting rainfall, large forests can help regulate regional temperatures, often keeping them cooler and more habitable. In fact, the Amazon creates between 50% and 80% of its own rainfall through a process called transpiration.
Despite forests having a substantial role in the lives of almost 25% of the global population, we are still seeing a decline in the world’s forests. Although the rate of deforestation has slowed by 50% in the last 25 years, it still continues to be a problem. Reducing the area of land covered by forests alters how reflective the Earth is, which in turn affects global weather and wind patterns.
Additionally, forests act as a huge carbon sink, the only larger one being oceans. On average, forests absorb 2 billion tonnes of CO2 every year! This is about 5% of global annual emissions. As we attempt to reduce emissions enough to keep warming below the 2 °C target set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we must appreciate the role forests have in helping us achieve this.
Forests play a huge part in our everyday lives, whether we realise it or not. Everything from the post you received this morning, to the medicines in your bathroom cupboard, can potentially be traced back to forests in one way or another. So, this International Day of Forests, take a moment to reflect on how forests impact your life - you may be surprised to find out how big this impact is.